Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase reconstruction efforts in northern Japan as the country marks five years since an earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeast coastline and set off a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
"There is no rebirth of Japan without the recovery of northern Japan," Abe said. "Under this unshaken belief, I am renewing my determination to build a new northern Japan which is filled full of hope."
The 2011 tsunami and earthquake left more than 185,000 dead or missing and destroyed several coastal communities.
The Japanese Red Cross Society said thousands of families and elderly people are still displaced.
In a statement Thursday, the Red Cross said about 170,000 people are either housed in temporary or rented accommodations, or have moved to other parts of the country to restart their lives.
It said radioactive contamination from the nuclear plant has prevented more than 100,000 families from returning home. It notes that some families have been able to return, permanently or temporarily, thanks to decontamination efforts.
Tadateru Konoe, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society and of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said it is the elderly who are left behind in the temporary housing, while younger people move on, leaving the most vulnerable people in a community that is slowly disintegrating.
The Red Cross said it will be many more years before reconstruction is complete, and in the meantime, it continues to help with medical services, home-building and social events and activities to help survivors maintain a sense of community.
In addition, it has set up a Nuclear Disaster Resource Center to improve community preparedness. The center makes use of learning experiences from the Fukushima disaster.